Support among evangelicals for immigration reform is growing

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Migrants form a line to receive warm food donated by residents in downtown El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Texas border cities have seen a surge of as many as 5,000 new migrants a day across the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks.

Migrants form a line to receive warm food donated by residents in downtown El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Texas border cities have seen a surge of as many as 5,000 new migrants a day across the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks.

AP

“I’ve told my friend Alejandro, if he’s scared, he can come and stay with us,” a congregant told me recently. Alejandro is an immigrant in the United States unlawfully.

This was the second person at Grace Fellowship Church in Kinston, the evangelical church I pastor, who told me they are willing to take someone in to protect that person from deportation.

My two friends vote on the conservative side of the political spectrum. They are mature, both in Christian faith and age. They are financially successful. They are not radicals by any political definition.

And yet, here they are ready to defy a government agency. What’s going on?

I believe more Christians are sensing that as a country we can do better. We can treat immigrants with the dignity and respect they deserve as people made in the image of God.

Pastor Jason McKnight.jpg
Jason McKnight

Many migrants enter the U.S. to escape dangerous circumstances or dire economic prospects in their country of origin. They leave everything behind, hoping for a better life. They work tirelessly and sacrificially to make it happen.

This does not mean that they are right to cross the border illegally. But it helps me remember why they want to come: hard work is rewarded here, and their family can thrive. Most would prefer to enter lawfully, but do not qualify under current laws.

Our economy is experiencing labor shortages that contribute to higher inflation rates and food prices. By filling essential roles in the workforce, immigrants help mitigate these.

Without their labor, things would certainly be worse — supply chain shortages, higher food prices, increased dependence on foreign imports, increased overall inflation.

This is not a blanket excuse for illegal immigration. But it reminds us that wholesale deportation would remove thousands of contributors from our communities. And it drives us to seek a legal solution for these friends in our midst.

I have heard many on the right say with conviction, “but they’ve broken the law.” They’re right. The Rule of Law is the bedrock of freedom. People ought to be held accountable for their wrongs, and this is why so many rightly stress a strong border. Laws matter.

Yet along with truth comes grace. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible speaks of justice balanced by mercy. Justice points to a standardized guide. Mercy points to the fact that we’re all in need. A legal framework for freedom requires justice and mercy, especially for the most vulnerable.

A growing trend of support for immigration reform shows evangelicals recognize this.

Recent polling from Lifeway Research shows that four out of five evangelicals support immigration reform that strengthens border security, establishes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, and provides a legal and reliable workforce for American farmers. A truth-and-grace path forward.

That’s why I’m encouraged by the recent announcement from U.S. Senators Thom Tillis and Kyrsten Sinema that they are working to pass an immigration and border security bill. Though it did not get enough traction last week to pass, Sinema says she will push for it again in 2023.

The bill would be a meaningful first step toward the immigration reforms we all know are needed, but have been stalled for too long. It also takes seriously the fact that 74% of Americans want Congress to work to compromise to move us forward, according to a new NPR poll.

I hope Congress can catch up to the voting public, who are looking for our laws to reflect compassion and order, justice and mercy, grace and truth. I applaud Sens. Tillis and Sinema. Congress needs to act to get this bill across the finish line.

Jason McKnight is the lead pastor of Grace Fellowship, an evangelical church in Kinston, N.C.